Screening Room: ‘A Ghost Story’

In A Ghost Story, Casey Affleck plays a ghost who haunts the house he once shared with his beloved, Rooney Mara.

It opens this weekend in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

A good rule of cinematic thumb is that when a ghost movie isn’t trying to scare you: Watch out. Hijinks or romance are sure to follow, and not with good results. It’s also generally best to avoid movies whose specters are visible, since what one can’t see is almost always more terrifying than what you can see; invisibility just leaves open too many possibilities. Somehow, David Lowery has aggressively flouted these rules in A Ghost Story—by first not caring a whit whether you are scared and then giving his ghosts highly unusual corporeal form—and come out the other side with a truly spectacular movie…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Manchester by the Sea’


For his followup to the brilliant, if barely released Margaret, Kenneth Lonergan delivers a fistful of melancholic comedy in the surprising, deftly written Manchester by the Sea, which stars Casey Affleck as a man coming apart under the weight of multiple tragedies.

Manchester by the Sea is playing now. You probably will not see a better written or acted film this year. My review is at PopMatters:

“It’s not a good disease.” Diagnosed with cancer at the start of Manchester by the Sea, Joe Chandler (Kyle Chandler) asks his doctor if there are any good diseases. “Poison ivy,” she replies, with the barest hint of a grin. At that, Joe’s wife Elise (Gretchen Mol), furious that they’re joking at a time like this, storms out of the hospital room. Elise might be best advised not to watch Manchester by the Sea, a nearly perfect example of how to weave humor throughout tragedy…

Here is the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Out of the Furnace’

Christian Bale and Zoe Saldana in 'Out of the Furnace'
Christian Bale and Zoe Saldana in ‘Out of the Furnace’

Out-of-the-Furnace-PosterNow that December’s here, the Oscar race can begin in earnest. One of the first out of the barrel is Out of the Furnace, which was a Ridley Scott / Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle sometime back but was later (probably fortunately) retooled by Scott Cooper (2009’s Jeff Bridges crusty heartwarmer Crazy Heart) into a self-consciously gritty blue-collar revenge tale with a whole roster of boldface names.

Out of the Furnace is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

Although Christian Bale plays a down-to-earth factory guy in Scott Cooper’s bashed-knuckle drama, there’s still a dark superhero glimmer to his too-good-to-be-true character. In a story littered with moral compromises and horrendous decisions, Bale’s Russell Baze doesn’t show a moment of weakness. He stalks right into the very maw of an Appalachian hell without seeming to give it a second thought. After all, he has his family to defend. That would be all well and good were Russell being played by Charles Bronson and this was a world of strict blacks and whites. But Cooper seems to be aiming for something different, trying to tell a familiar vengeance story with uncommon grit and attention to character. Batman just doesn’t fit that well into that kind of universe…

Here’s the trailer:


Now Playing: ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck fiercely in love in 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints'.
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck fiercely in love in ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’.

aintthembodiessaints-posterThe award for this year’s least likely to be remembered movie title goes to David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, a Terence Malick-inflected story of a young Texas couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) separated by prison after a crime spree. Keith Carradine and Ben Foster also star in this gorgeously photographed but rambling film.

My review ran in Film Racket:

Sunsets flood David Lowery’s soulful robber-on-the-run story, lens-flaring the screen and painting everything in a rustic ochre patina. It’s beautiful but gets in the way, as though distracting writer/director Lowery from getting to the business at hand. The cinematography is by Bradford Young (Pariah), whose patient lens captures the dusky halo of tree-shaded Texas streets and grassy fields under a humbling sky. What it can’t do is transform Lowery’s stretched-out short of a piece into a full-fledged story…

Here’s the trailer: